commitment

The Commitment of Community

Photo credit: lightstock.com In fact, my visit to you has been delayed so long because I have been preaching in these places. But now I have finished my work in these regions, and after all these long years of waiting, I am eager to visit you.

I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.

But before I come, I must go to Jerusalem to take a gift to the believers there. For you see, the believers in Macedonia and Achaia have eagerly taken up an offering for the poor among the believers in Jerusalem.

They were glad to do this because they feel they owe a real debt to them. Since the Gentiles received the spiritual blessings of the Good News from the believers in Jerusalem, they feel the least they can do in return is to help them financially.

As soon as I have delivered this money and completed this good deed of theirs, I will come to see you on my way to Spain. And I am sure that when I come, Christ will richly bless our time together.

Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me. Do this because of your love for me, given to you by the Holy Spirit.

Pray that I will be rescued from those in Judea who refuse to obey God. Pray also that the believers there will be willing to accept the donation I am taking to Jerusalem.

Then, by the will of God, I will be able to come to you with a joyful heart, and we will be an encouragement to each other. And now may God, who gives us his peace, be with you all. Amen. (‭Romans‬ ‭15:‭22-33‬ (NLT)


Why do you go to church, if you go at all? What do you like best? What do you not like so much?

When I pastored in Southern California, many new-to-town visitors wanted to know what our church had to offer them. Today, this shopping for a good church is more prevalent than ever.

I often hear people say they want community, especially when it comes to church. Ok, but community—genuine community—requires commitment, a mutual commitment.

Paul speaks of bringing a gift to the church in Jerusalem, donated by other believers. He also expects the believers in Rome to provide for his travel.

Real church community, as seen in the early church (Acts 2:44-47), requires a commitment on everyone's part.

So when you're looking for a church, consider what you're willing to give rather than what you might get. ©Word-Strong_2016

5 Ways to Overcome It All

  Photo credit: unsplash.com_JThomas

When the world around us seems out of control, it's easy to become discouraged, angry, depressed, and even fearful.

When evil, injustice, scandals, unrest, and tragedies dominate the news, cynicism is easy to cultivate. Why? We get bitter and our hearts harden when we lose hope in what's right and true and good.

But there are ways to overcome it all.

Don't be overcome

If we don't want to be overcome by the snarling darkness of this world, we need to develop attitudes and actions to contend with it.

One thing is certain—as followers of Jesus, we don't need to be overcome with worry or secretly admire those who seem to get away with everything.

In a previous post, I looked at the first nine verses of Psalm 37 and pointed out five ways to overcome what we cannot control. (Psalm 37:1-9). This is a follow-up post to see how these five ways can help us to overcome it all.

5 Ways to overcome what we can't control (from Psalm 37)

1– Trust in the Lord and do good (verse 3)– the opposite of fretting and envy

The initial way to not be overcome with worry and envy is to trust. Any form of trust is a risk of sorts, but the risk is reduced by the trustworthiness of whoever (or wherever) we're putting our trust.

The Lord is trustworthy beyond what we can comprehend, so it boils down to our own willingness to trust Him. Trusting in the Lord isn't a choice between one thing or another, it's based on relationship.

It's a confidence that God is greater than whatever threatens to overwhelm us. This is expanded on further in the psalm (Psalm 37:10-15; 18-22). It's a confidence that God will honor our trust in Him (Heb 11:6).

[bctt tweet="Our confidence in God needs to be greater than whatever threatens to overwhelm us" username="tkbeyond"]

2– Delight yourself in the Lord (verse 4)– having right priorities

As a young believer, I remember hearing the verse, Delight yourself in the Lord, and He'll give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4), as if it was a guarantee the Lord would give you whatever your heart desired. But there's more to it than that.

It's tied to trusting in the Lord (#1 above). The focus needs to be on delighting in the Lord, not what we want or desire. When our highest priority is the Lord Himself, our priorities are in right order and he will honor that.

[bctt tweet="When God transforms our hearts, the desires of our heart will change" username="tkbeyond"]

When this is true it transforms our heart and what we desire—our selfish nature is no longer the basis for the desires of our heart. This brings contentment into our relationship with the Lord. This is seen in other verses of this psalm (Psalm 27:16-19; 23-26).

3– Commit your way to the Lord– the Lord's promised care

Many believers have the sense that once they've given their heart to Jesus no further commitment is needed. In one way this is true. Once a decision is made to follow Jesus, just as with a marriage vow, a person doesn't need to do it over and over again.

But it's not a one and done type of commitment. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus speaks of the need to affirm this commitment daily (Luke 9:23). How can it be both?

The battle of not going with the cultural flow of the world around us is constant. It doesn't go away once we make a decision to follow Jesus. It requires a continuing surrender of our will and ways to the Lord.

I learned this as a young believer and Proverbs 3:5-6 became an anchor of truth for me when I dealt with worry, frustration, and envy of others.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

[bctt tweet="Trust in the Lord with all your heart—In all your ways acknowledge him" username="tkbeyond"]

4– Be still and wait (verse 7)– the power of disconnecting

This may seem like a passive action or no action at all, but it's a powerful way to connect with God. This is especially true in our digital age where people wander around in their own world with headsets and headphones or chasing imaginary creatures on their smartphone.

If we want to connect with God, we need to be willing to disconnect from the world around us, including people. This is nothing new and the idea of being present or mindful has once again become vogue in American culture.

[bctt tweet="To connect with God, we need to be willing to disconnect from the world around us" username="tkbeyond"]

The question for many is how? How can we digitally, emotionally, and physically unplug for a while? You'll need to find your own way to do this.

One way I do this is to get up early in the morning (while it's still dark) for a less-distracted time with God. Another thing that helps me is riding my bike on the beach, or fully engaging in worship.

As I said, you'll have to sort out how you can do this, and it requires some discipline and commitment.

5– Refrain...forsake...fret not (verse 8)– breaking the cycle

A friend of mine showed me an illustration and explanation of the Cycle of Rage that's relevant here. A choice needs to be made to break out of the cycle of reacting with anger or fretting when things seem out of control (Psalm 37:8).

This is a choice to not be controlled by our circumstances or feelings. How? This brings us full circle to the beginning of our ways to overcome it all.

When you begin to roll down the hill of cynicism and despair, it's time to put the brakes on!

[bctt tweet="If you're rolling down the hill of cynicism and despair, put the brakes on!" username="tkbeyond"]

Choosing God's kingdom over this world's dominion

What's described in these five ways to overcome is not a list of disciplines to apply, but a way of life in the Kingdom of God. This is seen in the repetition about inheriting the land (Psalm 37:9, 11, 22, 29, 34). For the Jews, this spoke of God's kingdom on earth.

But the kingdom of God is not restricted to a dominion upon earth, it encompasses all those who trust in the Lord in a personal way. Jesus refers to this in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:5), and Paul speaks of this in his letter to the church in Rome (Romans 4:13; 14:17).

The world around us may continue to darken, but it doesn't have to run over us like a truck.

[bctt tweet="The world around us may continue to darken, but it doesn't have to control our life" username="tkbeyond"]

Our life may not go as we expect, but when we choose to trust in the Lord, committing our ways to Him, we have the assurance of inheriting a better life than we could make for ourselves as co-heirs with Jesus (Gal 3:29; Eph 3:6).

What will you choose today?

The Desires of the Heart

Photo credit: lightstock.com

We all want life to make sense and to have purpose. Yet, many things that take place in the world and impact our life bewilder us.

We have no control over most of what goes on around us. The more out of control life seems the more we want to get things under control.

But we can't control others, nor can we set everything in order around us. And yet, we have options.

Scripture

Of David

Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. [vss 1-4]

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. [vss 5-9]

(Psalm 37:1-9 NIV) [Context– Psalm 37]

Key phrase— Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart 

[bctt tweet="Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What are we not to worry about and who should we not envy? Why is this so?

What are we to do? What are the specific things we're encouraged to do?

What are the results we can expect when we do these things?

What is the final thing we're encouraged to do? How do you think we are to do this?

Reflection...

When life around us seems overwhelming, we tend to do one of two things. We try to take actions to bring things into order, or we withdraw to hide from it all.

The first thing often leads to frustration, while the second brings a sense of hopelessness.

Looking to the Lord for what we can't control helps us gain perspective on it all. Setting our mind and heart to trust the Lord this way brings internal peace and order.

But how can we do this when we're overwhelmed? It's not something we do once and it's finished. It involves a commitment and consistency to continue doing what we know in our heart to be right and true and good.

The psalmist gives ways to do this, which are expanded on in the rest of the psalm. Each one results in some type of blessing from the Lord.

Here are those five ways to overcome what we cannot control—

  1. Trust in the Lord and do good (verse 3)
  2. Take delight in the Lord (verse 4)
  3. Commit your way to the Lord (verse 5)
  4. Be still before the Lord (verse 7)
  5. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath (verse 8)

In my next post, I'll unpack these five things a bit more, so check back!

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Are there times when you're frustrated and angry about the state of things in your life or the world around you?

When do you feel most overwhelmed? What seems to trigger this, or precede this sense of being overwhelmed?

How do you handle angry feelings, worry, frustration, or fears? Are you able to bring these feelings to the Lord in prayer?

How often do you try to settle your heart and mind by trusting your concerns with the Lord? 


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

Justice Is Driven Back

unsplash-starrynight_man_light_JSewell If you love the truth and value honesty, lies and injustice should prompt anger to rise up in your heart.

But if you value deception when it's expedient to your cause, whatever it might be, your heart will swell up with pride.

When truth is mocked and integrity of character is set aside, judgment is not far behind. But what, if anything, can you do about it?

Nothing new

Deception is nothing new. It's as old as...well, humanity. The first humans on earth started the ball rolling, but had some help disseminating deception.

In the Garden of Eden, he came as a clever serpent (Gen 3:1), he tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11), and Jesus called him the father of lies (John 8:44).

Deception, injustice, and evil will continue to be with us until the Lord returns and settles things His way. But how are we who trust in the Lord to deal with blatant deception and injustice?

[bctt tweet="How should we deal with blatant deception and injustice?" username="tkbeyond"]

It's a challenge to live our daily lives, raise a family, and live a life of integrity when deception and injustice seem to prevail. How do we respond when leaders prove to be untrustworthy?

After the justifiable anger rises up and before it boils over, we need to consider how to respond in both wise and practical ways.

The dilemma

Moral and ethical darkness are not new in the world. Corruption, injustice, and oppression by governments is common throughout history.

This doesn't mean we just tolerate it or dismiss it. The gravitational pull created by the black hole of corrupt and oppressive leaders suck life and hope out of people's lives. Both the innocent and the righteous are impacted.

When Israel was plunged into moral and spiritual darkness by their own unfaithfulness, God rebuked them—

Justice is driven back; godliness stands far off. Indeed, honesty stumbles in the city square and morality is not even able to enter.

Honesty has disappeared; the one who tries to avoid evil is robbed.

The Lord watches and is displeased, for there is no justice. (Isaiah 59:14-15)

The inevitable question comes, "Why doesn't God do something about it? Doesn't He care?!"

God does care! He has intervened over the centuries and personally intervened when He came as the Word of God in human form (John 1:1, 14).

[bctt tweet="God cared & intervened to help His people many times, even in person through His Son" username="tkbeyond"]

A resolution

What are we to do? Is there something we can do? There is.

He sees that there’s no one to help. He’s astounded that there’s no one to intercede. [italics mine]
So with his own power he wins a victory. His righteousness supports him. (Isaiah 59:16)

The prophet declares that God is astonished no one is interceding on behalf of Israel in their moral and spiritual darkness.

The dictionary describes an intercessor as someone who steps in on behalf of another to plead for them. Who was God expecting to intercede? The spiritual leaders of Israel.

Prayer is not a last resort, but our first and best action.

[bctt tweet=" Prayer is not a last resort, but our first and best action" username="tkbeyond"]

Intercessory prayer may seem passive, even weak, but it's far from that. Jesus is often shown praying before significant events throughout the gospel narratives. Intercession was vital and key to the church's survival and growth in the book of Acts.

Standing in the gap

God's concern for an intercessor is echoed by the prophet Ezekiel—

So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. (Ezek 22:30 NKJV)

Where are the intercessors now? Nations all over the world are in turmoil and need intercessors—people who will "stand in the gap" and plead for their nation and people.

[bctt tweet="Where are the intercessors who will stand in the gap for their nation?" username="tkbeyond"]

Intercession requires commitment and consistent faithfulness when others give up in the face of adversity, and when it seems nothing is changing for the good.

Standing firm

When God saw no one who interceded for the nation, He stepped up to do so—

He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. (Isaiah 59:17)

The figurative phrases in this text are similar to what the apostle Paul said to believers facing the oppressive Roman Empire—

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Eph 6:13)

The larger context of this verse describes this armor of God in detail, with the list concluding with prayer, intercessory prayer (Eph 6:10-18).

This is what we can do, and how we are to respond when deception, evil, and darkness seem to prevail. Even if you're not a recognized leader, you can lead as an intercessor.

[bctt tweet="If you want to stand firm in hard times, prayer is vital, including intercessory prayer" username="tkbeyond"]

Doers, not just hearers

Jesus said those who hear His words and put them into practice will stand firm, like a house built on a rock (Matt 7:24-27).

No human leader can solve the world's woes. Clamoring for justice won't bring resolve. Putting hope in such things is like building a house on the sand. When storms come—and they will—these hopes will crumble.

When the world tumbles with turmoil and what once seemed secure is shaken, we need a solid foundation to stand firm in the midst of it all.

Knowing the truth isn't enough. Each believer needs to be a doer, not just a hearer of truth (John 13:17; James 1:22).

[bctt tweet="Knowing the truth isn't enough—we need to be doers, not just hearers of truth" username="tkbeyond"]

We need to engage in a wise and practical way. God's choice and direction is intercession, not mere protest, and certainly not empty rhetoric.

We need to live out the truth day-to-day, even when others around us abandon it.

We need to appeal to the One who alone is able and who will bring true justice and righteousness.


How will you respond when truth is mocked and integrity is shunned?


If this post is of value and encouragement to you—please share it with others... thanks!

Authenticity

Photo credit: lightstock.com Love sincerely. Hate evil. Hold on to what is good. Be devoted to each other like a loving family. Excel in showing respect for each other. Don’t be lazy in showing your devotion. Use your energy to serve the Lord.

Be happy in your confidence, be patient in trouble, and pray continually. Share what you have with God’s people who are in need. Be hospitable.

Bless those who persecute you. Bless them, and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy. Be sad with those who are sad. 

Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be arrogant, but be friendly to humble people. Don’t think that you are smarter than you really are. (‭Romans‬ ‭12:‭9-16‬ (GW)


At present, authenticity is highly valued in our culture. It's become a popular value connected to relationships, experiences, even to sell products.

As with so many things, words take on different meanings as culture changes. Current American culture tends to view things through an individualistic and relativistic lens. In other words, we frame things the way we want to see them.

Paul enumerates several ways Christian believers are to be authentic—real, genuine, reliable, true, and trustworthy. He begins with love for others, moral honesty, and true commitment to whatever we do, regardless of our circumstances.

The last few admonitions describe godly tolerance—tolerance from God's point of view. This includes blessing, not cursing, those who oppose us and humility instead of arrogance. All of these reflect the nature of Jesus.

Paul reminds us to not lose our focus on who we are within a world in rebellion towards God. We are to reflect the very nature of Jesus whom we claim to follow. He is gentle, humble, and full of grace and truth (Matt 11:29; John 1:14). ©Word-Strong_2016

On the Right Path

unsplash-paths_forest_JLelie A favorite memory from our life in the Philippines is snorkeling at Apo Island—drifting across the colorful beds of coral reefs and watching a kaleidoscope of tropical fish darting in and out. It’s a tranquil and yet stunning setting.

Apo Island sits out in a shipping channel and has deceptively strong currents. Divers have been lost because of those currents and snorkelers have drifted far from where they started.

It’s easy to get caught in a current when your attention is fixed on the lovely, lively scene below the water’s surface. Life in this world is like that. We get so absorbed in what captures our attention that we don’t realize the drift in our life. It doesn’t take long before we’re trapped in the cultural tide swirling around us.

Resisting the cultural pull

When our relationship with God is spiritually healthy, we can resist the cultural pull around us. But this requires diligence on our part. We must be alert and aware.

[bctt tweet="A spiritually healthy relationship with God helps us resist cultural pull" username="tkbeyond"]

Psalm 1:1 reminds us of the slippery slope of the world’s culture. We can see a word picture in the text—a literal progression from walking to standing to sitting. How does it happen? It’s seductive. It’s subtle, yet strong.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.—Psalm 1:1 (NKJV)

When we look to the advice of others, the still small voice of God can be drowned out. He calls us away from the crowd to Himself. He doesn’t demand our attention, nor does He shout at us.

The path of deception

When we listen to the world’s wisdom, faith may seem illogical. God’s words of truth may appear weak compared to the brash opinions of others. Soon, we may find ourselves on the wrong path.

Not too far down that path, cynicism grips our heart. We find ourselves seated among those who scoff at what we once held dear . . . and what once held us secure.

[bctt tweet="When we listen to the world’s wisdom, faith may seem illogical" username="tkbeyond"]

Be careful what you listen to, it doesn’t take much to get sidetracked. Watch where you’re going. The way may seem right at first, but it could lead you in the wrong direction.

Finally, take time to consider your closest companions. As the apostle Paul reminds us, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV).

Digging deeper for a personal application in your life—

  1. Who and what has the most influence in your life? This is easily determined by what grabs and holds your attention.
  2. How much time per day do you spend listening to the opinion of others? Does the Lord get equal or greater time?
  3. Make a commitment to track what most often captures your attention. Then, be willing to make changes as needed.

This was originally posted as a guest post on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog. You can read it here— On the Right Path

The Apple of His Eye

Photo credit: lightstock.com

A life of faith is a life of trust. Trust becomes real when it becomes necessary. I can say, "I trust God," but those are mere words until I choose to show it by my actions.

David was slandered and persecuted before he was a king by King Saul, and while he was king by his son Absalom. Yet, he continued to trust God rather than take matters into his own hands.

Prayer is an act of faith. It's not mere words spoken into air, it's a commitment of the soul.

Scripture

A prayer by David.

Hear my plea for justice, O Lord. Pay attention to my cry. Open your ears to my prayer, ⌊which comes⌋ from lips free from deceit. Let the verdict of my innocence come directly from you. Let your eyes observe what is fair. [vss 1-2]

You have probed my heart. You have confronted me at night. You have tested me like silver, but you found nothing wrong. I have determined that my mouth will not sin. I have avoided cruelty because of your word. In spite of what others have done, my steps have remained firmly in your paths. My feet have not slipped. [vss 3-5]

I have called on you because you answer me, O God. Turn your ear toward me. Hear what I have to say. Reveal your miraculous deeds of mercy, O Savior of those who find refuge by your side from those who attack them. Guard me as if I were the pupil in your eye. Hide me in the shadow of your wings. Hide me from wicked people who violently attack me, from my deadly enemies who surround me. [vss 6-9]

They have shut out all feeling. Their mouths have spoken arrogantly. They have tracked me down. They have surrounded me. They have focused their attention on throwing me to the ground. Each one of them is like a lion eager to tear ⌊its prey⌋ apart and like a young lion crouching in hiding places. [vss 10-12]

Arise, O Lord; confront them! Bring them to their knees! With your sword rescue my life from wicked people. With your power rescue me from mortals, O Lord, from mortals who enjoy their inheritance only in this life. You fill their bellies with your treasure. Their children are satisfied ⌊with it⌋, and they leave what remains to their children.

I will see your face when I am declared innocent. When I wake up, I will be satisfied ⌊with seeing⌋ you. [vss 13-15]

(Psalm 17:1-15 GW) [Context– Psalm 17]

Key phrase— I have called on you because you answer me, O God

[bctt tweet="I have called on you because you answer me, O God" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

How does King David begin his appeal to the Lord? Why does he say he's confident in prayer?

In what way does he speak of his relationship with the Lord? Do you think this is boasting?

What and from who is David asking to be protected from? Why?

What is King David's final declaration of confidence? When will this happen?

Reflection...

Corrie Ten Boom, made famous by her book (and movie) The Hiding Place, knew Hitler's Germany would face God's judgment. Why? Because of their genocide upon the Jews, the apple of God's eye.

She knew Israel was the nation God raised up and chose as His people. King David appealed to God for His protection when he said, "Guard me as if I were the pupil [apple] in your eye."

The pupil [apple] is the center of our eye. This speaks of an acknowledgment of need and vulnerability. King David understood that no matter who his enemy was, God was greater.

He even had this assurance beyond life on this earth. As he says, "I will see your face... when I wake up." This shows His trust in God—a genuine faith. Even when surrounded by enemies and the possibility of death, he still trusted God.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Do you trust in God more than your self or others?

Have you learned to trust God in a deeper way through times of trials and testing?

How has God answered prayer for you? How has this increased your faith?

Are you confident in God's care and protection over you and the lives of your family?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

More Than Promises

Photo credit: unsplash_SWijers Commitment. Is it a forgotten value? Many express commitments, but how many follow through? Companies, politicians, the media, people making New Year's resolutions, all talk commitment, but are they only empty promises?

Promises, promises. Talk is cheap. Words are many, actions are few. However you express it, rhetoric and rants fill the air, but not resolve.

Resolve is the root word for resolution, "I resolve to...." Resolve, resolution, commitment, whichever term is used, is a promise requiring action. But what's the basis for making such promises? This is important.

The "C" word

The "C" word, that's what I called it. At the beginning of each new year, I'd craft a message on commitment. Each message was framed within the current need of the church in view.

Throughout most of the 80's, I challenged those I pastored towards some commitment. It became something we joked about, "oh no, the 'C' word again!"

It was joked about, but understood. Each of us in the church, including me, knew we needed to be challenged, reminded of our commitment to follow Jesus.

When I moved overseas, my challenge was directed towards pastors and leaders to study, preach, and teach the truth of God's Word. Later, I challenged my staff and students in the Bible college. I also challenged myself.

Over the years, many of these messages and challenges focused on the importance of God's Word, the Bible.

[bctt tweet="Resolutions are promises that require a commitment to action"]

A spiritual famine

When I returned from the mission field in 2005, I saw a great need in the church. I didn't have the same opportunities to address this need, as I had while pastoring and as a missionary. So I addressed it within a much smaller circle of influence.

Still, the need grew. It continues to grow. We are moving ever closer to what the prophet Amos spoke hundreds of years ago—

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.
They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it." (Amos 8:11-12)

How would this be possible with so many biblical resources available today? We (Americans) are awash in study Bibles, devotionals, study guides, conferences and workshops, small groups, and mega and home churches.

[bctt tweet="We are rich in resources and Bible knowledge, but poor in commitment"]

We are rich in resources and Bible knowledge, but poor in commitment. We lack commitment to walk in the truth of God's Word. Let's face it, we're more talk than follow through.

Take responsibility

We don't need to be more articulate and erudite in Bible knowledge. We need to live the truth of the Scriptures out in daily life.

  • Live out the truth whether people notice it or not.
  • Live it out so it transforms our life from the inside out.
  • Live it out even when it doesn't meet the expectations of others.
  • Live it out even when it costs us something to do so.

[bctt tweet="We don't need more articulate and erudite Bible knowledge, but to live it out"]

How? Each believer needs to take personal responsibility for their own life.

Don't blame the church, the culture, pastors, anyone, or anything else. Each of us need to commit to seek the Lord, understanding His Word, and living out our faith each day.

Back to basics

What do you think is needed to make this kind of commitment? What does real commitment need to be based on?

In sports, when a team is making careless mistakes or playing without focus or passion, it's said that the players need to get back to the basics. Practice of simple, but essential fundamentals.

I believe this is true for Christian believers, pastors, leaders, and the church as a whole. But what are our basics? What are the essentials we need to put into practice?

[bctt tweet="What are the essentials Christian believers need to put into practice?"]


Over the next few weeks, I hope to explore some of these essential basics. I gave a hint above for the essential I'll focus on first. But what do you think?

What do you see as essential to live out the Christian faith?

Some Thoughts on Discipleship

Photo credit: unsplash_JQuaynor What is discipleship? Here are a couple of dictionary definitions—

A person who is a pupil or an adherent of the doctrines of another (Dictionary)

One who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another (Free Dictionary)

That's what the dictionary says, but what does Jesus say? Is discipleship simply a matter of following and spreading the teachings of Jesus?

My thoughts on discipleship

My simple definition of discipleship is— the transfer of our personal, experiential relationship with the Lord to others within a relational framework of one on one, or one to a few. It requires a mutual commitment of time, willingness, respect, patience and discipline.

Too often, discipleship can be reduced to a plan or program of training. But it is not something to be learned through lecture, study, and assignments. Nor can it be reduced to the idea of being caught rather than taught.

[bctt tweet="Discipleship is the transfer of our personal, experiential relationship with the Lord to others within a relational framework"]

This idea that it is caught can be a copout for a passive or lazy style of discipleship. This would put most of the responsibility onto the disciple, rather than the discipler. Is this what Jesus had in mind when He said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...," (Matt 28:19)?

As we look at the most obvious example of the Lord Jesus, our supreme model for discipleship, we see His simple method. This is explored in some detail by Robert Coleman’s book, “The Master Plan of Evangelism,” as well as other books by the same author.

Many other books on discipleship provide plans or methods, but how can we really hope to improve upon the Lord’s example?

Intentional and relational

Discipleship—to be effective and to have a lasting impact—needs to be intentional and personal. It needs to be relational. Inherently, it requires mutual discipline and commitment.

It has no specific style nor format, and can be personalized and subjective. Although this may seem likely to produce doctrinal errors or biases, it appears to be the method of choice in the New Testament.

[bctt tweet="Discipleship needs to be intentional and relational, it requires mutual discipline and commitment."]

Paul says in 1 Cor 11:1, “imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” This is echoed in his exhortation to Timothy, his “true son in the faith,” in 2 Tim 2:2. Although there are other models, there are no ironclad, standardized patterns.

The obvious models are Jesus, Barnabas (who mentored Saul/Paul), Paul (and his instructions to Timothy and Titus), and others recorded in the book of Acts, including Peter and what he wrote in his epistles.

More recently, notable leaders of movements within the church have mentored others who, in turn, are discipling people. Are these perfect models? No. Are there idiosyncrasies of the mentor passed onto those discipled? Undoubtedly. Yet, it appears this was understood by the Lord.

The Jesus model of discipleship

The Lord’s confidence in this method of discipleship—His model—rests upon the indwelling guidance of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20, 27). A review of the Gospel of John (chapters 14 through 16 [1. John 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15.]) makes this clear. So, why would we do it any differently?

Reluctance is more likely based on a lack of trust in the Holy Spirit, and our human tendency to put our own imprimatur on the process. Or perhaps, it's concern about error being passed on, or the disciple not grasping everything we think they should get.

[bctt tweet="The Lord’s method of discipleship rests upon the indwelling guidance of the Holy Spirit"]

Whatever the reason for this reluctance, one thing seems clear to me over the past couple decades. There is little intentional, relational discipleship taking place in the US. Sadly, because of our influence upon the rest of the world, it has not been common where western missionaries have been.

The good news is, Jesus is still the Head of His church and is quite capable of maintaining a remnant who disciple as He did. Discipleship has become a hot topic in the past decade or so in the US. Church planting movements driven by intentional, relational discipleship are alive and well globally (such as T4T).

The question is— Are you (and I) following Jesus so others will also follow Him?

The command of Jesus remains— 

So go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything that I have told you to do. You can be sure that I will be with you always. I will continue with you until the end of time. (Matt 28:19-20 ERV)


For some more of my thoughts on discipleship, check out— Discipleship—How Did Jesus Do It?

Here's the Reason Discipleship Can Be Difficult

Photo credit: unsplash.com_GRakozy We Americans live in a culture focused on self. More and more, the concept of team or community is just that—more of a concept than reality.

Self-identity is an industry, not just a psychological term. More attention is given to individuals than groups. We fawn over star-power, whether it's American Idol, fantasy sports leagues, or CEO's pulling down outrageous salaries and bonuses.

Yet, focus on self isn't just an American cultural phenomenon, it's a human issue. Self-interest has been with us since the first humans on earth.

Just follow Jesus

When most everyone around you is focused on doing what's best for them, following Jesus can feel a lot like swimming against the tide. It can wear you out fast. Unless you learn how to do it from the Master Himself.

Believers and followers of Jesus need help, His help. Jesus is the core of the Gospel, and the core of the Christian faith. By Christian faith, I mean all the theology, doctrine, and practice known as Christianity. Jesus is the core of the Gospel and He calls each believer to follow Him.

[bctt tweet="Jesus is the core of the gospel and core of the Christian faith"]

His call is a personal one. It's a call to surrender our free will to Jesus, and put Him first in our lives. Jesus calls us to set aside selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-fulfillment. But this involves no striving, only abandonment and surrender to Jesus and His will.

This is difficult, no, impossible without God’s help and His power at work in us internally, but it becomes an amazing testimony to the power of God. It captures the attention of people, and brings lasting change to the world.

[bctt tweet="Jesus calls us to set aside selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-fulfillment"]

Real change in the world only comes when people are changed within their hearts. Only Jesus can bring this about. But He chooses to do this through true self-denial—choosing to trust in Jesus implicitly and dying to a life fixated on this world.

Are you confused?

Why does the world have so many different ideas and misunderstandings about Jesus and Christianity? Perhaps it comes from the body of believers who profess to be Christians.

What message does the world receive about Jesus, the Gospel, and the Christian Faith through the followers of Christ? What is the church’s living example?

If there is confusion about who Jesus is among Christian believers, it's communicated by speech and example to others, and confuses those who seek to know Him.

[bctt tweet="If we're confused about who Jesus, it's communicated by speech and example to others"]

Jesus, the core of the Gospel and Christian faith, is the core call and purpose of a believer’s life. By core, I don’t mean the center, but the central strength and nature of life in Him.

This could be likened to the nucleus of an atom, defined as “the central point of the atom.” An atom’s particles, protons and neutrons, are bound and held together around the nucleus by a nuclear or residual strong force.

[bctt tweet="Jesus is the core of the Gospel and Christian faith, and core of a believer’s life"]

These properties of a nucleus and atom always remind me of this description of Christ in Colossians—

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col 1:17 NIV)

Jesus at the core

Perhaps what Jesus expressed about His own self-denial in going to the cross helps make this clear—

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. (John 12:24-26 NIV)

Looking at a kernel of wheat, or the seed within a fruit like a peach, the importance of the core is easy to see. The very life of a peach tree is in the core of the fruit itself. The flesh of the fruit surrounding the seed is eaten, and the seed is thrown away.

[bctt tweet="Jesus is not just what we focus our lives on, He is our source of life"]

When the seed is planted it grows into a tree, but the seed has to die before it can germinate into what becomes a tree. This is God’s design. It’s God’s continuing illustration within nature of the importance of the core.

This illustrates the simplicity and necessity of keeping Jesus as the core of the Gospel. He is not just what we focus our lives on, He is the source of our life.

More than a belief

Our daily life example needs to match what we tell others. God’s Story is more than a belief to hold onto, or something to be done—it's a personal relationship with Jesus who transforms our life.

When we can express the simple truths of the gospel and others see Jesus at work in our life, it is an easy and natural thing to share our faith with other people.

[bctt tweet="God’s Story is more than a belief, or something to be done—it's a relationship with Jesus"]

Jesus is the core of the Gospel. He is the Savior of all people and the Son of God. He, God the Son, came into the world, died upon the cross for all humanity, and rose from the grave victorious over death.

He calls every person to follow Him, whoever is willing.

Each follower will need to give up his or her own selfish ways, the natural lifestyle of this world, and trust only in Him for all things, in every way, every day.

[bctt tweet="Jesus calls every person to follow Him, whoever is willing"]

Jesus honors this commitment with life beyond anything the world has to offer, and a life beyond this world. He alone is worthy of a person’s unreserved trust.


This is the last in a series of posts taken from my book on the Essential Gospel. Here are links to the previous posts—

Who Is Jesus…Really?

Who Jesus Is

A Culture Conflict

To learn more about Jesus and the gospel, get a copy of my book– The Mystery of the Gospel

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share these posts!

Training Up a Timothy

Photo credit: Lightstock.com Some people speak of getting back to what the first church experienced. I think most of that talk is idyllic nostalgia. It's not based in reality, nor is it biblically sound.

I learned long ago, you can't go back to what was once before. Think of all those time-travel stories. It never works out well, things are always different. It's also not how God chooses to move by His Spirit. God desires to do something new, not remade or revisited.

But there is one thing we can go back to—the example of Jesus. After all, He is our prime example. On the night He was betrayed, He gave us a valuable example of His leadership style, and made it clear we are to follow this example.

More than washing feet

The story of Jesus washing the feet of His followers is full of great truths to teach. It is not just about washing one another's feet, although foot-washing services can be meaningful.

The primary focus of this story, in John 13:1-17, is the Lord's example of servant-leadership. It was a role He demonstrated throughout His life and public ministry, but this was not discerned too well by His disciples (Luke 22:24-27).

If you want to raise up a Timothy, a son or daughter in the faith, it should not be based on a pattern or curriculum or theological theory. It needs to be based on the example of Jesus.

He poured Himself into twelve men whom He chose as His foundation for the church. One would betray Him. All would deny Him, until they were empowered with the Spirit of God, after Jesus' resurrection.

Servant-Leadership as seen in John 13:1-17

Here are five characteristics and ways a true servant-leader leads. These are qualities and roles of leadership seen in Jesus. In John 13, as He washes the disciples feet, we see His example of confident, yet humble leadership.

This is our model. This is our only pattern, not clever leadership strategies designed by men.

Last week I posed a question—Pastor, where's your Timothy? This is a simple answer to that question.

Know the Way (v 1, 3)

We see the Lord’s confidence in knowing who He was as God’s Son, where He came from, and where He was going. Our confidence is not to be in ourselves, nor our abilities. Our confidence is based on the Lord and who He has called us to be in our relationship with Him.

Knowing the way for us is to deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow Jesus (Mt 16:24), and be guided by the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:14). This is how we are to live and lead until we see Jesus face to face.

[bctt tweet="Our confidence is not to be in ourselves or abilities, but in the Lord"]

Walk the Way (v 4-5)

By far, the most common and important element of true servant-leadership is being a living example. This, of course, is the picture we have of Jesus as He washes the disciples feet.

This is not unusual, but seen throughout Jesus' leadership and training of the disciples. Example was always an essential element of His leadership.

[bctt tweet="Example was an essential element of Jesus' leadership"]

Show the Way (v 6-13)

This is simply an extension of walking the way, but moves beyond example to helping others see or know the way. How? By teaching and training in a personal and relational manner.

We see this in the dialog between Jesus and Peter, and in His instruction to all the disciples. This is not classroom or pulpit teaching, but a process of relational discipleship.

[bctt tweet="Genuine discipleship involves teaching and training in a personal, relational manner"]

Make a way (v 14-15)

An important part of leadership is training up new leaders. Again, it is not a program, but an intentional and relational process of discipleship. Discipleship done well naturally produces leaders.

The responsibility of leaders and mentors is to make a way for others to step up into leadership roles. It is often a matter of creating opportunities for others to move forward.

[bctt tweet="Discipleship done well naturally produces leaders, so make a way for them"]

Step away (v 16-17)

One of the more difficult roles of leadership is knowing when it’s time to move on or get out of the way. It's usually a matter of timing, but also the way in which a leader steps away.

Again, we look to Jesus as our prime example, but other examples are Barnabas (Acts 11:24-26), and Paul in the pastoral epistles. It requires self-denial on the leader’s part.

[bctt tweet="Knowing when to step back for other leaders to step up requires self-denial"]

The essential element

The essential element of servant-leadership is humility. This is the nature of our Lord Jesus (Matt 11:29; Phil 2:5-8), and it is essential for any leader to lead as Jesus did. Humility is important for mentoring others.

If you look closely at the life of Paul the apostle, you will see it, and Peter reminds all elders and young leaders of this too (1 Pet 5:5).

If you want to raise up a Timothy, someone who is able to lead others beyond your leadership, then know the way, walk the way, show the way, make a way, then step away.

Are you committed to intentional, relational discipleship? Are you ready to mentor someone? If so, follow the lead of Jesus.


This post is a follow-up to last week's post— Pastor, Where's Your Timothy?

What is That to You?

Photo credit: lightstock.com We are told over and over, "You can be anything you want to be. You can do anything you put your mind to." But, honestly, that's not quite the case. I get it. It's positive thinking and motivation to take risks, move beyond perceived barriers, so we're not held back by what keeps others from excelling.

That's fine, but when a person makes a commitment to do something, there are inherent limitations. The obvious is that a commitment is a choice to do (or not do) one thing over a host of other things. It could be to quit smoking, go on a diet, get into a fitness routine, or something else beneficial.

But relational commitments like marriage, parenthood, even friendships are different. These commitments involve loyalty, even sacrifice of one's own desires or preferences. True commitment also involves risks, moving beyond limitations, and not going along with the crowd.

Choosing to follow Jesus is a commitment

When I was a young believer, I remember hearing something about commitment to Jesus that stuck in my mind and heart. It went something like this— "When you make a commitment to follow Jesus as your Lord, it's like signing a blank contract. The Lord fills in the details as you follow Him daily."

[bctt tweet="Making a commitment to follow Jesus is like signing a blank contract"]

This is a pretty counter cultural thought, especially today, as it was then also (the early 70's).

We are steeped in the pursuit of self-fulfillment, with a host of self-serving options in life. But an open-ended commitment to self-denial (Matt 16:24), that's always been counter-cultural, or at least, counter to what comes natural to our selfish nature.

What is your response to Jesus' call on your life? For me, it's summed up in the encounter Peter has with Jesus when He restores Peter after his three denials of Jesus (in John 21:15-22).

"...what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22)

Do you love Me?

Jesus appeared to His followers several times after His resurrection. On one occasion, Jesus surprises them with a breakfast of fish and bread on the beach of the Sea of Tiberias. They had fished all night but caught nothing. Jesus suggests they throw their net out "on the right side" of the boat, which resulted in a miraculous catch.

On the beach after breakfast, Jesus proceeds to ask Peter if he loved Jesus more than the others. Not just once, but three times. Each time Jesus tells Peter what He wants him to do—feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. Peter was grieved that Jesus asked him this three times (John 21:15-17).

Why would Jesus ask Peter the same question three separate times, giving him essentially the same instruction three times?

The obvious reason is that Jesus was restoring Peter after his three denials of the Lord. Peter claimed all the others might deny Jesus, but not him! And yet, Peter did deny Jesus three times (Luke 22:54-62). But there's more to the story.

It begins when Peter, the one whom Jesus chose as a leader, told the other disciples he was going out to fish, and they followed his lead (John 21:1-3). What had Jesus told Peter when He called him to follow? “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” (Luke 5:10 NKJV)

Peter returned to his former livelihood. He lost sight of the Lord's call upon his life. This happens to all of us at some point along the path of following Jesus. We tend to lose sight of God's calling on our lives when things don't go as we expect.

[bctt tweet="We tend to lose sight of God's calling on our lives when things don't go as we expect."]

You follow Me

Jesus goes on to tell Peter the way he will die later in life, then says "Follow Me." What is Peter's response? He questions Jesus about another disciple, wondering what will happen to him.

I've heard many teachers mock Peter's actions and reactions throughout the gospel, including this one. Truth is, we're all just like Peter. When the Lord shows us the path He has for us, we want to know if everyone else has to do the same.

Jesus' response to Peter is pointed— "...what is that to you? You follow me!”

Our path in following Jesus is going to be different from that of others. Each of us is unique, and so is our relationship with Jesus.

[bctt tweet="Our path in following Jesus is going to be different from that of others"]

How do you react when others are blessed in a way that you want to be blessed, but aren't?

When you go through various struggles and tests in life, do you question God why it's happening?

Building a Leadership Team On a Solid Foundation

©tkbeyond_2015As a young boy, I was not a great athlete. I wasn’t even a good one. I was skinny, had no confidence, nor any gift or skill of athleticism. But I loved sports! What I lacked in skill or gifting, I made up with hustle and effort. Consequently, when it came to choosing up teams, I was one of the last, if not the last, to be chosen. Come to think of it, a lot of my life has been like that.

I don’t know how I developed a love for sports, since my dad wasn’t a sports fan. But I loved baseball! To this day, I’m a true-blue LA Dodgers fan, even though I live in FL. I enjoy team sports, but know that having good athletes is not the secret to having a great team. So, how do you build a solid leadership team?

How do you start building?

Always start with a solid foundation. Just as with building a home, or any building, a good, solid foundation is critical. The classic example? The leaning Tower of Pisa.

[bctt tweet="When building a leadership team, always start with a solid foundation"]

When it comes to a ministry team within a church or other ministry, a solid relationship with Jesus needs to be priority one. This is where I left off in last week's post. This is also true for any business venture involving Christian believers. If relationship with the Lord isn't priority one, the venture will be built on shaky ground. When it comes to ministry work, this should be obvious.

I see at least five components needed for building a leadership team on solid ground—humility, purposeful vision, commitment, respect, and shared responsibility. Sorry, no clever acronym, and all the points don't start with the same letter. I just couldn't make that happen, so I'll try to keep it short.

#1–Humility

Since a personal relationship with Jesus is our best foundation, lets consider Him as a leader. Want was Jesus like at His core? His very essence? Here it is in His own words—

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30 NIV)

First of all, He tells us what His nature is—gentle and humble. Hmmm, doesn't sound much like what we tend to value in a leader, but there you go. As I mentioned last week, Paul (Phil 2:5-8) and Peter (1 Peter 5:1-5) stress the importance of this as a leadership quality. Humility is an important value for a healthy leadership team.

[bctt tweet="Jesus' humble leadership style is much different from most leaders"]

There are some encouraging promises given. Jesus will give us rest when we look to Him as our first priority—a rest for our souls—an internal rest. And, He promises a good working situation with Him as our senior partner—our genuinely humble leader.

#2–Purposeful vision

Most vision or mission statements I've seen try to be pithy and powerful. However, in some cases it's just a statement without action to back it up. For a vision to propel a leadership team forward, it needs to be purposeful.

A vision that inspires and motivates people needs to have a clear sense of purpose and scope. The vision has a mission built into it. It answers these two questions—

  1. What is the distinct reason for why we exist as a team? [purpose]
  2. Who are we leading and serving, and how will we do this? [scope]

[bctt tweet="Vision that inspires and motivates needs to have a clear purpose and scope"]

#3–Commitment

There's the old fable about a pig and a chicken regarding their different levels of commitment to a breakfast of ham and eggs. Obviously, the pig has to die to contribute to the breakfast, while the chicken continues to live after contributing the eggs.

Real commitment requires risk. It's a matter of trust, even when a certain level of confidence exists. When building a leadership team, commitment is essential, but everyone needs to buy in to what ever the mission is. This is why the vision, which expresses whatever the mission is, must be purposeful and clear.

[bctt tweet="Real commitment requires the willingness to risk and trust"]

#4–Respect

Respect is a valuable, but often underrated, even neglected element of a solid leadership team. With team sports, the more respect and trust (commitment) each member has for the others, the more likely the team will function at a high level.

Over and over, teams that play well together, but without superstars, defeat teams laden with talent who lack team unity. Members of a solid team will say they "have one another's back" as an expression of commitment and respect.

[bctt tweet="Respect is a valuable, but underrated and neglected element of leadership"]

Respect also needs to be shown when things don't go as expected or wanted. This is where members of a team realize the intrinsic value of each member. The famous quote by Alexander Dumas, in The Three Musketeers, expresses this idea— "All for one and one for all, united we stand divided we fall."

#5–Shared responsibility

This is where a team becomes a real team. Each person needs to realize that their area of responsibility is not just theirs alone. The "all for one..." quote applies, once again. A team is a complementary relationship. Each member fills a role, and the strengths of one member flow over and fill the weaknesses of others.

[bctt tweet="A team is a complementary relationship, where strengths and weaknesses fit together"]

The church, the Body of Christ, is to be a model of this, as the apostle Paul points out in his first epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12:14-27), and in other epistles.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Rom 12:3-5 NIV)

These traits—humility, purposeful vision, commitment, respect, and shared responsibility—based on a solid foundation, are a good start in building a healthy leadership team.

What are your thoughts on these traits?

What's your experience with leadership teams—good or bad?


This is one of several posts on leadership. The most recent one on leadership teams is– Leadership Transition and the Value of a Team

Leadership Transition and the Value of a Team

What does good leadership transition look like? Should it be on a grand scale and made with great promises? How long should it take, and what's the secret to a successful transition?

Last week I started a three-part series on leadership transition, using the illustration of passing the baton in a relay race. A relay race is composed of teams of four runners who must be quick, strategic, and smooth in running, pacing the handoff of the baton, and the handoff itself.

One critical element is often overlooked in our age of super-stardom. The four runners must work together as a team. No one runner is more important than the other. Each has a role to play. Yes, it's great to get off to a good start, and have a strong kick at the finish. But, it's also vital that the second and third runners gain, regain, or keep the lead, along with seamless handoffs so no precious seconds are lost.

Teamwork is critical for good transitions of leadership. But where and when does this teamwork start?

From great to not so great

Last installment (part 1) we looked at the story of Rehoboam in 2 Chronicles. It is a sad example of a transfer of leadership from one leader to another, from King Solomon to Rehoboam, his son. It can also illustrate a transition of leadership in most any organization, including a church.

[bctt tweet="Teamwork is critical for good transitions of leadership."]

One thing especially difficult is a transition from a founding pastor (or leader), to a younger, much less experienced leader, as in this story (2 Chronicles 10:1-19). "Filling the shoes" of someone who established the culture of a church (or organization) is very difficult, and is even more difficult under the shadow of the founder, if they stay within the organization or church.

Here are several questions that should help bring some healthy consideration towards a good leadership transition. Healthy leadership transition shouldn't start as an afterthought, or in the last few months of a leader's tenure, but needs to start early on. It should be embedded in the whole vision of the church or organization.

[bctt tweet="Healthy leadership transition shouldn't start as an afterthought"]

Self-accountability questions for leaders—

  1. How is your relationship with the Lord? Are you going through a spiritual growth period or a dry spell? Are your devotional times with the Lord somewhat hum-drum or are you experiencing some special times as well?
  2. Who are you discipling? Are you investing any of your life and walk with the Lord in someone else? How are you transferring any of what the Lord has done in your life to bless others?
  3. Who are you training up for positions of leadership? Who is able to take your place if you're called to do something different someday? Will what you are doing outlast or survive your involvement and presence?
  4. Are you accountable to anyone? Who? Do they know this? Do you make regular time to be held accountable? If not, who can you go to when you need guidance, help, or restoration?
  5. What vision do you have for ministry now and the future? Do you have a sense of vision for the ministry you're involved with now? Do you have vision for other ministry beyond what you're doing now?

Now rather than later

That's a bunch of questions all at one time, but these are not to be answered once and set aside. They should be looked at and considered from time to time within a given year—maybe 2 or 3 times a year.

Discipleship will naturally produce leaders. It worked well for Jesus, and it still works. It's just a slow and deliberate process, which is why now is the best time to start doing it! Keep it simple, personal, and deliberate. It will spawn good spiritual growth for the discipler, as well as the one discipled.

[bctt tweet="Discipleship will naturally produce leaders, as it did for Jesus"]

Looking ahead

In the next installment I'd like to address some questions for younger leaders. But even young leaders can benefit from the above questions. If Rehoboam followed the advice of the team of advisors to his father (King Solomon), it would be a very different story. But he didn't.

Trusted and proven advisors are a valuable asset to young leaders, any leaders for that matter. New and young leaders can bring fresh vision and energy to the table, but not know how to get things started or how to implement the vision.

[bctt tweet="Trusted and proven advisors are a valuable asset to young leaders"]

Next week, we'll look at a few ideas to prepare for leadership transition long before it needs to happen.

What is your experience with discipleship?

Are you investing any of your life and walk with the Lord in someone else?

Who are you training up for positions of leadership?

What vision do you have for ministry now and the future?

Abandoned and Scattered

WS-devo_PMSThen Jesus said to them, “All of you will abandon me. Scripture says, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ “But after I am brought back to life, I will go to Galilee ahead of you.” Peter said to him, “Even if everyone else abandons you, I won’t.”

Jesus said to Peter, “I can guarantee this truth: Tonight, before a rooster crows twice, you will say three times that you don’t know me.”

But Peter said very strongly, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never say that I don’t know you.” All the other disciples said the same thing. (‭Mark‬ ‭14‬:‭27-31‬ GW)

Peter and the disciples left their work, their homes, and families to follow Jesus, the Messiah. They were committed.

They had no real sense of what lay ahead of them in the next few days. They couldn't imagine abandoning Jesus. But they would and they did.

We must be careful about making promises—vows—that we can't keep. Only because of God's mercy and grace are we able to follow and serve Him. ©Word-Strong_2015

What, or Who, Are You Following?

©Lightstock.com©Lightstock.com The advent of social media brought a new twist on the subject of following. Some make a science out of it. Others obsess about gaining more and more followers. But when it comes to the Christian faith, it should mean one simple thing.

Recently, I read an article by a well-known pastor in a Christian online magazine for leaders. What he says is certainly not heresy, but I do take exception with a couple of things he says. Actually, one thing in particular.

The article

I want to make it clear—this is not a knock against this pastor—otherwise I'd make it more personal and name him. I'm sure he's a fine pastor, and I know he's a sought after speaker.

In fairness to him, I get the point of what he says about how the church is perceived by people in general, especially the unchurched. But even in this, I believe he and many of us are missing the primary issue. Here's the paragraph I take issue with—

“The arrival of Jesus signaled the end of the temple model,” he continued. “The Church really should be … nothing more than a community of people who follow the teaching of a man sent from God to explain God and to clear the path to God. You don’t have to agree but you shouldn’t dislike it unless there’s more to it.”

Well, there is more to it.

The problem

My concern is the sentence, "nothing more than a community of people who follow the teaching of a man sent from God...."

When I became a believer, something I've shared about in my book and in earlier posts, I chose to follow Jesus, not just His teaching. Yes, of course, I study what He taught and am committed to walk in that truth, but I follow Him.

[bctt tweet="I study what Jesus taught and am committed to walk in that truth, but I follow Him"]

Over the centuries, schisms and splits have come because of differences on doctrine and practice, and theological viewpoints. And so, thousands of church denominations and variations of denominations were born. But the identity of the church is not about doctrine or theology, it's about Jesus.

Heidlbg-schlosseDon't get me wrong, doctrine and practice matter, and good theology is to be valued. This is where we and the rest of the world get sidetracked. It's not about religion, but relationship, and that relationship is with Jesus.

I'm reminded of my conversation with our guide at the castle in Heidelberg. He told me that we (American) evangelicals seem to focus on Jesus more than they (European Protestants) do. He's right, but not as right as we'd like to believe.

What matters

Our natural bent as humans drives us to justify ourselves. It started in the garden when Eve, then Adam, made their fateful choice (Gen 3:4-6). Since then, we all try to cover our nakedness with fig leaves of some kind to cover our guilt, shame, inadequacy, or whatever (Gen 3:7).

This effort at self-justification takes on all sorts of forms, and is popularized by the expression, "We're saved by grace, not by works" (Eph 2:8). We can say that, and believe it, but do we live it?

Over the years, I've seen and heard many people conclude one person or another is not "saved" because of what they believe. I've also heard plenty of people claim spiritual rightness based on what they believe.

But the Christian faith is grounded upon relationship with God through Jesus His son. Here are a few of the many places this is made clear—

  • Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23— Jesus calls "whoever" to follow Him
  • John 14:6-11— Jesus makes it clear that He is the only Way to the Father
  • 1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Philippians 3:17— the apostle Paul makes it clear who he is following to his followers (disciples)
  • Hebrews 8:7-13 (especially verses 10 and 11)— the basis of Christianity—the New Covenant—is relationally-based, not performance-based

[bctt tweet="The Christian faith is grounded upon relationship with God through Jesus His son"]

Does the church need rebranding or revival?

Back to the article's content, the pastor contends the church has become "unnecessarily resistible" and needs rebranding. Is this really our responsibility?

Does the church need rebranding or revival? It seems to me we need revival.

Whenever there's been revival, the church didn't shape itself, it exalted Jesus. The revival was the work of God, not the followers who experienced it. My only experience with revival was during the Jesus Movement.

I suppose you could say the church got rebranded in those days, but it wasn't because a pastor, group of pastors, or churches decided it was needed. The outpouring of God's Spirit into those who became believers brought change because they were changed.

[bctt tweet="Does the church need rebranding or revival? I think we need revival, what about you?"]

Revival is God's work, not ours

We were following Jesus, not a set of teachings or new approaches to doing church. As our lives were transformed, we wanted to go to church, and we came "just as we were." We wanted to hear God's Word taught, and wanted to worship with abandon, and we wanted to tell others about Jesus.

I've been reading a book that challenges the church today about the need for revival. The book is called, "Reborn to Be Wild" by Ed Underwood. In the book he challenges readers to a radical commitment to Jesus.

Revival is God's work, not ours. He brings it about as He changes us from the inside out. The church doesn't need a change of appearance or approach, we need a change of heart. We need to follow Jesus with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength (Mark 12:30).

[bctt tweet="The church doesn't need a change of appearance or approach, but a change of heart"]

A Community Is Not a Clique

Photo credit: mashable.com Many people have difficulty connecting at church, especially larger ones. A myriad of reasons contribute to this, and blame can't just be laid at the feet of the church itself.

It's easy to get into church-bashing and stories of abuse, but it can also be the person's inability or unwillingness to connect.

I've been in many different churches in different nations. I've been an outsider and part of the church body infrastructure. Too many times, I've seen a cliquishness within good, solid churches. It happens, and it usually isn't intentional. But it happens.

Trouble connecting?

Community is a popular theme today. But what is meant by community? It depends on the context. A community can be defined as a group of people who have something in common, or are related by something common.

You or I may be in community with others and benefit from it. Yet others, not included in our community for whatever reason, may view us as a clique. Without going too far down that trail, let's understand a simple truth—a clique is not a community—and I'm speaking of a biblical community.

It doesn't matter that we don't think we are a clique. When others feel or seem excluded from our community, we are a de facto clique. And yet, we feel a common bond, which makes us a community.

A look at biblical community

Many are seeking genuine community within and outside of churches. It's a legitimate desire, in fact, I'd say we all ought to be seeking community. It's what the church was intended to be, and what we see in the Book of Acts.

In the late sixties and early seventies, community began to spring up in a natural, biblical way. My wife and I lived near one such communal (community) house connected to our church. It was a small version of what we see in Acts. Today, not many of those types of church communities exist in the US, though there are still some legitimate ones.

Even the community we see in the first few chapters of Acts ran into some dissension (Acts 6:1-7). It was resolved, but it shows it's difficult to maintain that type of community. What was the secret of the early church? I don't see a particular secret, but I see a few things that make up biblical community.

5 Basic elements of biblical community

The first biblical model of community is found in the Old Testament under the leadership of Moses. But the community in Acts was based on what Jesus modeled for us. Of course, one obvious thing is that a church community is the Body of Christ, so Jesus is the Head of it.

Here are five general things based on the early church model in Acts. You might see more or less, but here's what I see.

Biblical community is relational

The early church had one thing in common. That one thing was their relationship with Jesus as their Lord, though they referred to Him as Messiah. Jesus was their primary bond. This is the heart of observing communion, or as some call it, the Eucharist.

The one obvious thing of any community, biblical or otherwise, is that it's relational. This is the nature of being a community. A biblical community not only has a shared relationship with Jesus, they have close ties to one another because of shared experience. This is seen with the early church.

The disciples were devoted to the teachings of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.... All the believers kept meeting together, and they shared everything with each other. (Acts 2:42, 44 GW)

It is inclusive, not exclusive

When we have close relationships—people with whom we're comfortable and familiar—it's easy to become exclusive. It's not intentional, hopefully, but it happens rather naturally.

The early church, following the example of Jesus, was inclusive, not exclusive. People followed Him who were not part of the religious community of that day. This created opposition, as it does today.

When I was involved with my community working with a drug intervention program, someone in my church said to me, "What if those kinds of people start coming to church?" I told the church that I hoped they would, and they'd be welcomed. It didn't sit well with some and they left our church.

It is dynamic, not static

A real community changes, even when we want it to stay the same. If it doesn't change, its life gets choked out. It's been said that the last few words of a dying church are, "But we've never done it that way!"

I planted a church towards the end of the seventies and remember our growing pains. One that shocked me was the attitude towards the church's growth. "Pastor, I miss the days when we were a small, close-knit group."

Although I understood what they meant, I could see the problem it caused. As new people came to church, they weren't easily included, especially when they were different in some way.

It is open and non-discriminating

We tend to discriminate for a lot of reasons—race, status, doctrine, appearance, behaviors, even politics. Sometimes, we don't even realize how we discriminate.

Every day the Lord saved people, and they were added to the group. (Acts 2:47b GW)

Will the church be open or discriminate against the LGBT community, people of other religions, the de-churched, and unchurched? We discriminate against non-believers by our attitudes of self-righteousness towards them, though we say we want to win them to the Lord.

Remember, Jesus broke a lot of social norms and met a lot of opposition because of it.

There's a shared sense of responsibility

Do you remember the call of the Three Musketeers? "One for all, and all for one!" This expresses the idea of a shared sense of responsibility. It goes beyond having a common bond. It's a commitment to one another.

The whole group of believers lived in harmony. No one called any of his possessions his own. Instead, they shared everything. (Acts 4:32 GW)

This may be one of the more challenging elements of true biblical community today. We live in a culture that asks, "What's in it for me?" But, a biblical community asks, "What do I have that benefits others?"

Sharing is what we're supposed to learn in kindergarten, but not out of obligation, nor emotion. It needs to be out of a commitment of love for Jesus and His people.

To connect or not to connect?

It's not up to a pastor or a church, it's up to each believer within the church. Each of us is responsible for creating community and not a clique that appears to be community.

Each of us is responsible to be relational, inclusive, open to change, open-hearted, and committed to others. These are my thoughts on the subject, but what about you?

How have you experienced healthy community within the church?

How have you contributed to a healthy and biblical church community?

 

 

A Modern Malaise Infects Contemporary Christianity

Photo credit: deathtothestockphoto.com It's really nothing new. Others have written about it. But last week I saw it in a startling way, as I listened to the Sunday morning message and watched it unfold. The speaker set the tone of his message with music, art, and poetry, but it didn't go as planned.

The speaker is known for his dry, British wit, and people began to chuckle and laugh out loud. He desperately tried to set a serious tone, but it was a battle. Why the battle? What was going on?

What's going on?

At first, I could see the speaker try to overcome the expectations of the regular church-goers. Because they were used to his humor, they missed the point. He pleaded with us to see things differently, "Really, I'm not trying to be funny!"

Even after he overcame the initial resistance, I could see the deeper problem. We, contemporary American Christians, are conditioned to expect entertaining anecdotes and monologues from speakers. Many people seem to only respond to what entertains them or stirs them emotionally.

There is a place for humor, storytelling, and emotion in public speaking, for sure. But should it take center stage? It's reasonable to expect more. The message last Sunday was on the problem of disconnect in loneliness and the need to wait upon God.

[bctt tweet="We expect entertaining anecdotes and monologues, rather than sound teaching"]

A not so modern malaise

I wonder. Have we lost the willingness to grapple with serious topics and deeper spiritual thought? Are we too wrapped up in our "what's in it for me" heart attitude? Do we have spiritual ADHD, unable to focus attention on much more than our smart phones, which seem to make us dumb and numb?

It's not a new concern. AW Tozer voiced his concern about this in the 1950's. CH Spurgeon expressed similar concerns in the 1800's. And Jesus encountered it with His faithful followers.

It's not an issue of intelligence, nor spiritual disinterest. It's deeper than that, and it's correctable. Contemporary Christianity is infected with the modern malaise of mental and spiritual laziness.

[bctt tweet="Have we lost the willingness to grapple with deeper spiritual thought?"]

Our problem

Our mental and spiritual laziness causes disinterest, which leads to disengagement. This state of disengagement leads to a disconnection with the Lord and His people.

Let's face it, it's easier to hear trite truths, than to ponder the depth of God—all He is and does. We want immediate resolve to our dilemmas, and seek what gratifies and satisfies for the moment, because it requires little from us.

We like what's superficial since we can take it or leave it. We tend to shun what requires commitment. Why? It's easier. But what's easier now will cost us much in the long run.

[bctt tweet="Let's face it, it's easier to hear trite truths, than to ponder the depth of God"]

The path of least resistance

What concerns me most is when I realize that I get caught up in this easy-cheesy way. I'm reminded of the Scripture that caught my attention in my pursuit to know God. It stopped me short as I realized I'd been going on the wrong path.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matt 7:13-14 NIV)

When I find myself struggling to resist what I know is destructive, I know it's time for a change. Change requires commitment. Commitment takes us on a different route than the path of least resistance. The path of least resistance leads to mediocrity.

No panacea for this malaise

There is no cure-all for this malaise, nor are there any silver bullet-points to follow. Mental and spiritual laziness requires commitment and perseverance to overcome.

The goal is to develop mental and spiritual discipline, but not the steeled-will variety. It needs to be a living discipline based on relationship. This is what Jesus was after with His first followers, and He still pursues this with us, His contemporary followers.

[bctt tweet="Mental and spiritual laziness requires commitment and perseverance to overcome"]

You are probably familiar with the basics of a healthy spiritual life—the Bible, worship, prayer, service, and fellowship. But these need to be pursued within the natural flow of our relationship with Jesus. Jesus reminded the Pharisees of this—

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!" (John 5:39 NLT)

And so also, worship, prayer, Christian service and fellowship need to be relationship-based, not checklists to be ticked off when completed. The natural outflow of a healthy spiritual life—evangelism and disciple-making—should also be relation-based as we continue as followers of Jesus.

It's time for a change

Here's a challenge that goes beyond New Year's resolutions. Resolve to be faithful in your commitment to follow Jesus—wherever He leads you, and however He does it.

Not a believer yet? Then consider the path you've been on—where is it leading you?

Spiritual and mental discipline will develop in a natural way, as you and I walk with Jesus in His way. It's not complicated, but it does require commitment and perseverance. Go for it! Move beyond mediocrity.

Want a Prosperous New Year?

Photo credit: lightstock.com  

It's the beginning of a new year, and many people are looking for a new start, new goals, and some New Year's resolutions. What are your expectations for the coming new year?

Do you want to be prosperous? First of all, it depends on what you define as prosperity? Perhaps you're hoping for a new job, wealth, new opportunities, or something else for a better life.

What if prosperity was not so measurable? What if it has more to do with values and quality of life? Is that the kind of improvement you're seeking this year?

Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers.

But they delight in the law [teachings] of the lordmeditating on it day and night.

They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. (Psalm 1:1-3)

A picture is worth a 1000 words

Can you see picture these words paint? There's a contrast between those who get bad advice and guidance, and those who meditate on the truth of God.

In Old Testament times, the Law was the primary base for teaching. Now, we have the teaching of Jesus, God's only Son, and His followers (epistles).

Those who read and think on God's Word, throughout the day and night, are like trees planted by a river. They have a constant source of nourishment, bear fruit, and never wither. Not only that, but they prosper in all they do.

Why? Because their guidance and source of wisdom is the eternal One—the Living God.

Would you like to prosper and be blessed?

A simple way of tapping into the continual flow of wisdom God gives to whoever asks for it (James 1:5), is reading and meditating on His Word. Either by reading through it, or listening through it.

Have you ever read through the whole Bible? It takes commitment, but is worth the investment.

Here are some plans you can try—

Bible in One Year

M'Cheyne One Year Reading Plan

The One Year Bible

The Bible in a Year

ESV Study Bible

Prof Horner's 10 list plan

I'm committed to reading through the Bible this year using The Bible in a Year plan.

Choose a plan, stick with it, and see how God prospers you this coming year!


This week I've focused on reading, sharing and understanding God's Word. If you haven't seen my earlier posts this week, check them out—

 Getting Beyond "John 3:16"

Re-framing John 3:16—a follow up

As always, thanks for reading and sharing these posts!

May your New Year be blessed—as you trust in the One who alone knows the future! 

Too Close for Comfort?

Photo credit: lightstock.com It is way too quiet in our home now.

Last weekend it was full of small and big voices alike. The smell of Puerto Rican cooking filled the air, along with chatter, crying and squeals of laughter. Our house was full.

Monday morning was just too quiet. We had the house to ourselves. The guest room was empty and nobody was asleep in the living room.

It's funny how quiet can be both comforting and discomforting.

All quiet on the home front

I took our youngest daughter, our son-in-law, and youngest grandchild to the airport Sunday morning. It was a long day of travel for them, and it will be a long time till we see them. They'll be in Germany for the next three years. We already miss them a lot.

The same day, our oldest daughter went back home, and mom and dad picked up our other two granddaughters that night. That's when the quiet hit.

Being away from family is nothing new for us after living in the Philippines for fifteen years. It's not about the empty nest syndrome, because all four of our children have spent time living with us over the past couple years, and my mom lives with us, as well.

It's about the closeness of family. We love it.

Close quarters

We've lived in close quarters with others over the years.

We lived with several other families at a church and retreat ministry in the Southern California desert back in the 1970's. It stretched our faith and challenged us in ways we didn't expect. It was a multi-generational mix of families with lots of dynamics.

When we established an orphanage ministry in the Philippines, it started out in our home. Later we built several buildings, but it was still a communal type of lifestyle. We were on call 24/7. It was a dual-ethnic, multi-generational extended family.

Many have asked us if it was hard to live in these settings. The short answer, yes. Living and working in the same place with other people can be tough. Conflicts are bound to come, and it's not always smooth sailing. But the rewards of living in community are worth it.

The rewards of living in community are worth the difficulties

A shared life

Community is about shared life. It's not a romantic notion, but doable. Being friends on Sunday or in social media doesn't come close. It requires having something in common, and genuine commitment is necessary.

A shared life is what we see in the early church, not just in Jerusalem (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35), but with other church plants found in Acts. I believe it's what Jesus intended for His church worldwide.

Small groups and house churches provide great opportunities for building community. But it doesn't have to be programmed or formalized.

The key to good community is shared life. This can't be faked, manufactured, nor manipulated. It requires a commitment beyond a "what's in it for me" attitude.

Community is about shared life.

Do you want community?

Many people say they want community as in the early church. But I wonder, do they know what it requires? Those of us who've lived in close community do know.

There are many healthy Christian communities that exist. So, why doesn't it exist more often? Although there are lot's of reasons, I can think of one simple thing. A shared life may be too close for comfort.

Community requires a willingness to not seek our own comfort zone. It requires commitment to and acceptance of others. It also means people are going to be in your business—your life business.

Community requires a willingness to not seek our own comfort zone.

Perhaps the real question is—how committed are you to God and His people?

Is a shared life too close for comfort for you? If so, maybe you need to ask who's kingdom you're seeking.

Here's a couple of articles relevant to this post, check them out...

The Transforming Power of Small Groups

Dysfunctional Family; Functional Faith